The dust has still not settled from the College Council elections held this week, although most of the major posts have been filled and the run-offs are set. Campaigning was particularly fierce this year, making it an exciting election but also souring the event for some. The new officers take over operations after spring break.
Medha Kirtane ’00 and Bert Leatherman ’00 will replace Kate Ervin ’99 and Will Slocum ’99 as College Council co-presidents for the coming year, defeating Nora Cuddy ’00 and Reed Wiedower ’00 by a count of 774 to 107. Ami Parekh ’01 won by a large margin for the secretary position, also defeating Wiedower. Nelson Hioe ’00 and Patrick Anderson ’00 will participate in a run-off election on March 16 and 17, competing for the position of Treasurer.
Ervin and Slocum had mixed feelings about the election process. “I was disappointed with how messy the campaigning process became,” Slocum said. “I very much was looking forward to a healthy debate and a fair and smooth election. From the start this was not an option.” He explained that according to the by-laws Wideower’s campaign was illegitimate from the beginning, and expressed concerns about the problems which arose from it.
It is genereally felt that the elections were not publicized enough, despite the thorny issues. “It was a little rushed,” Leatherman said of the election process, especially the way the nominations were handled. Questions about the disorganization behind the process bounded across campus in the days leading up to the event. Ervin explained that the entire process was very complicated.
“We wanted to publicize the Presidential Debate more and get the nominations packet out earlier, but we had other problems, like the legality of Wiedower’s campaign. Not to say that all this was Reed’s faultâ€”his campaign did great things in terms of bringing the College Council into the public eyeâ€”but it was certainly a complicated thing to manage, and problems arose as a result.”
Leatherman and Kirtane were heavily favored in the election, both coming out of College Council as the natural heirs to the position. Ervin was very enthusiastic about their prospects, noting that she “could not think of two better people to serve as Co-Presidents of College Council in the upcoming year. They have been wonderful to work with and have proven themselves as incredible leaders and incredibly hard and insightful workers time and time again.”
Campus reception of Leatherman and Kirtane has been generally positive, and the election numbers prove it. But they were expected to win, and some have expressed concerns about “the self-perpetuating hierarchy” of College Council, as Nelson Hioe explained. “A lot of people think the presidents play a large role in the election of the next year’s officersâ€”which is true. So people are naturally suspicious of the new officers, and this was the heart of [Wiedower’s] objection.”
However, even if they have not spoken, Hioe and Leatherman are on the same wavelength. “CC Presidents always have a conflict of interest when it comes around to election timeâ€”they want the people who they have worked with all year to get elected. It only makes sense to them, and so it can get really awkward to be in that position.” He seems to have learned from the swampy process this year, and suggested changes in the by-laws which would remove the co-presidents from the election equation, handing power instead to some sort of independent committee.
The need for an independent committee was most obvious for Leatherman in the fray that resulted from the infamous letter delivered to all students on the day of the elections. The letter, written by Ervin and Slocum, forcefully labeled Wiedower a liar.
“The problem was that the letter came out on election day in the polling place,” Baxter Mailroom, Leatherman said. “I can sympathize with [Ervin and Slocum], because the letter was provoked, but it was probably a misstep.” He referred to the extremely “caustic” campaign and the problems which resulted from Wiedower’s unorthodox campaign.
Hioe echoed Leatherman’s position, but with a different spin. “In many ways the letter was an abuse of power by the co-presidentsâ€”striking out against a candidate so harshly in the middle of the election while using College Council as an official shield.” But he also saw the purpose of their actions, stating that “it was really Wiedower who fired the first shot, to turn it into such a nasty campaign.”
Slocum spoke about his letter as a necessary evil. “We honestly wish that we had not been forced to write that letter. We, more than anybody, were hoping to have a clean, exciting election. However, we could not let Reed’s actions go unanswered. It was our obligation as College Council Co-Presidents to respond to his actions and write to the students.”
Secretary Ami Parekh also felt strongly about the letter, although she also understood the complexities of the situation. “At the last college council meeting many members brought up the sentiment that they did not feel as though the letter that Will and Kate sent to all SU boxes was called for. But I really feel as though it was their duty to get the truth out to the studentsâ€”or in this case, the voters.”
Much of the election hinged on Wideower’s unique campaign. After announcing to the student body that he was running for every post, he vigorously attacked the status quo. “In a way,” Hioe explained, “the letter validated [Wideower’s] point that College Council is closed off and doesn’t want outside views tampering with it.”
“But he went about it the wrong way,” Hioe went on.
The distance between the typical student and College Council is always a topic around election time, but this year it was the most discussed issue. “I feel this campus is very apolitical, especially about College Council. Most students think someone else will take care of this stuff, and sit back passively,” said Hioe.
Questions from the student body about the accessibility of College Council have been sharpened by the bickering and posturing so prevalent in this year’s election, although voter turnout was no higher this year than before. But in any case, Leatherman and Kirtane are aware of and based their platform on these difficult issues.
“We want to raise a profile of what we do, and get a lot of people to come and speak at the meetings,” Leatherman said. “We want to start having more accessible CC meetings in more public places, hold better-publicized open mic events, and that sort of thing.”
As secretary, Leatherman pursued many of the same ideas, investing in image and advertising to inform and attract students. “It’s not that people don’t care about certain things,” Hioe said, “It’s just that people don’t understand how CC works and how you get involved.”
In response, Leatherman suggested allowing students to establish the agenda around the issues of the week, hoping to calibrate CC debates toward the concerns of the student body. He also spoke about revising the system of house governance to include a weekly snacks where representatives could conceivably glean more from their constituency. This step would bring CC closer to the students they represent and make it easier for students to get their concerns on the CC floor.
These concerns seem to be at the heart of the new administration’s plans. “As secretary,” Parekh explained, “my primary goal will be to improve communication between the council and the student body. I think it is extremely necessary that the students know what the council is working on and that all the students feel as though they can voice their concerns to council.” Excited about the coming year, she also specifically noted some other major issues, including CC budgetary questions and student involvement in the tenure system.
Several other positions were decided immediately after the elections. Ryan Mayhew and Sheraz Choudhary will both serve as Campus-at-large representatives, while four studentsâ€”Sarah Barger, Gregory Kim, Laddie Petersen, and Erin Troyâ€”will be involved in the run-off.
Carrie Ryan ’00 will be the junior class representative, and Todd Rogers ’01 ran uncontested for the sophomore class post. Heather Matthews ’02 and Abid Shah ’02 will face each other in this week’s run-off election.
Shenil Saya ’02 and June Yi ’02 will represent the Minority Coalition for next year, Ricky Perez will take the reins over the Shareholder Responsibility committee, and Peter Eyre ’00 will head the Honorary Degree committee. All ran uncontested.
The Honor and Discipline committee, always a heavily contested election, will not be set until after the run-offs. Moira Shanahan ’01 won the first sophomore class representative position, while Rebecca Hinyard ’01 and Krzysztof Pierkarski ’01 will compete for the second. Andrew Woolf ’02 won for the freshman class, and three studentsâ€”Heng Cheam ’02, David Ross ’02, and Ken Ryu ’02 will run-off this week for the other post. Allen Wong ’00 and Joe Rogers ’00 were uncontested.
Run-offs for the office of the Treasurer and the other posts are to be held on Tuesday March 16 and Wednesday March 17. Voting will be conducted in Baxter.